Trying to stay awake and alert while driving long distances can be dangerous, even fatal. If you aren’t careful fatigue can eventually get the best of you and cause you to be a danger to yourself and everyone else.
Drowsiness knows no boundaries and can impact truck drivers, car drivers, bus drivers, pilots, train engineers, and just about anyone else that has to drive for long periods of time.
What can you do to combat drowsiness? The best thing to do is just stop and take a quick nap. It doesn’t have to be long, just a half hour or so should do the trick. That quick nap could be the difference between arriving safely or not. If you are not able to stop and nap below you will find 26 ways to help you stay awake.
In this article I am going to share with you some tips that truck drivers swear by that helps them stay awake and alert. Truck drivers are experts at staying awake and alert while driving. Keep in mind most things on this list have not been proven scientifically, they are tips that regular truck drivers find helpful.
If you are struggling to stay awake while driving then it is probably worth it to try a few of them and let me know how they do. If something is not on the list you can add it to the comments section on the bottom of this article.
Lets get started!
1. Take A Nap Before Leaving
One of the best things you can do to reduce how drowsy you get during a long driving trip is to take a nap before you leave. The nap doesn’t have to be long, just 30 minutes is enough to make sure your body is rested and ready to go.
2. Pull Over And Take A Nap
If you are already driving and you start to feel drowsy your best option is to stop driving (if possible) and take a nap. Again, the nap doesn’t have to be for a long time. A 20 or 30 minute nap will do a lot for helping you stay awake and getting to your destination safely. There is a reason why having a nap is #1 and #2 on the list. The best way to fight drowsy driving is to nap. All the rest of these suggestions are short term tricks that you shouldn’t count on to keep you awake a long time.
2. Listen To Loud Music
Nothing soothing here. Think Metallica or anything else that gets you energized. You goal is to stay awake so you should avoid classical music and boring talk radio as well. Put on whatever music you need to that will get you singing or dancing in your seat.
3. Do Some Stretches
If you start getting tired while driving you should try pulling over at a rest stop and walking around a little. Do some stretching and throw in a few push ups or squats if you can too. Anything to get the blood flowing will help you from getting drowsy.
4. Open A Window
Truckers swear that driving with a window or two opened just a little will help you stay awake. Keep the fresh air circulating. Opening a window will also lower the temperature inside the vehicle which will help you stay awake.
5. Sunflower Seeds
Eating sunflower seeds is food that you have to work at. The process of opening them up to get to the seed inside is what helps you stay awake.
6. Energy Drinks
These energy drinks can work but you pay a price by drinking them. They are loaded with sugar and other chemicals that I recommend you stay away from. This one should be a last resort.
Get out at a rest stop and do a physical work out. Nothing major, just some pushups or jumping jacks to help wake you up.
8. Citrus Fruit
I’m not sure how or why this one would help but there are some truckers that say eating an orange, mandarin, or grapefruit will help keep you awake. It is worth a shot to see if it works or not. Just go to a grocery store and buy a few oranges.
9. Tighten Your Body
The idea here is to clench every muscle in your body for 20-30 seconds which will force more blood to your brain. This is supposed to help you stay awake. Caution: this is a last ditch effort to get you to a place where you can safely park and rest.
10. Get Some Caffeine In Your Body
The obvious solution to driver fatigue. Drink coffee or a soft drink that has caffeine in it. Don’t overdo it though, too much caffeine and sugar from coffee and soft drinks is not healthy. You body can also crash after drinking too much sugar.
11. Eat Some Apples
Apparently eating apples helps drivers stay awake and alert more. It might work and it’s cheap to try out. I ave never tried this one so I’m not sure how well it will work. I anyone tries it let me know if it helped you stay awake.
12. Turn On A Light
Turn on the dome light if you can. Be careful that it is not too much of a distraction though. Turning on a small light is a trick that truck drivers have used for years to stay awake for long distances.
13. Listen To Something That Will Make You Laugh
Listen to something that is really funny and will make you laugh. This can be a podcast or a video. The laughing will help you stay awake.
14. Eat Healthy Foods
Avoid foods that have a lot of sugar because the sugar will increase your chances of feeling sleepy. Avoid foods that your body needs to use a lot of energy to digest. Skip your favorite fast food burger and instead get a salad and some pasta. Stick to healthy foods while driving and before driving. Don’t eat a huge meal right before you start driving a long distance.
15. Drink A Lot Of Water
Drinking water and staying hydrated is known to fight fatigue. Drinking more water will also mean that you will have to use the restroom more which will keep you awake. Make sure you drink enough water before driving and be sure you have a bottle of water with you in your vehicle.
16. Chewing Tobacco
Not a healthy alternative to help you stay awake while driving but it does mean you will be spitting into a cup for an hour or so which will keep you awake. Again, I would personally avoid this one but if you are OK with chewing tobacco you might want to consider it. A better option is to get some chewing gum.
17. Drive During The Day
If possible you should try to drive during the time of day that you are normally awake. Trying to drive from midnight to 6 am is not a good idea if you are worried about getting drowsy. The human body has a tendency to want to sleep between midnight and 6 am. Try to plan your trip so that your driving the most when the sun is out.
18. Eat Ice Cubes
Let an ice cube melt in your mouth as you are driving. A lot of truck drivers that drive long distances for a living swear that having ice cubes in their mouth helps them stay awake behind the wheel.
19. Wipe Your Face With Something Cool
Wiping your face with a wet wipe or moist towel can help you fight the need to sleep. Try to use cold water if possible.
20. Lower The Temperature
If it is could outside and your vehicle is too hot you are more prone to getting drowsy. Make sure you lower the heat a little so that it doesn’t get too hot. This might mean cracking the window a little bit to circulate some fresh, cool air.
21. Vitamin C Tablets
Vitamin C tablets have long been associated with staying awake. Pop a tablet and it will keep you more awake and alert. If you don’t want to chew tablets be sure to get a few oranges or any other citrus fruit.
22. Get Some Chewing Gum
Chewing gum is a cheap option to help you stay awake too. Apparently chewing gum works wonders for driving long distances. I like this one because it’s cheap and you can easily throw a pack of gum in your car or truck and use it when you need to stay awake.
23. Have A Driving Partner
If you are able to drive with at least one other person you can take turns sleeping and not lose time. Taking turns driving and simply having someone to talk to will make you more aware and awake during your trip.
24. Have A Plan
Make sure you plan your drive so that you are taking the shortest trip possible so that you are not driving a long time. Take a lot of breaks and drive during the day as much as possible.
25. Avoid Medications That Make You Tired
Medications can often make you drowsy. Try to avoid taking any medications before or while you are driving unless they are necessary for your overall health. Avoid things like cold and cough medicines because they will make you even more tired than you already are.
26. Talk To Someone
Now that everyone has a cell phone you could call someone that you haven’t talked to in a long time and have a conversation with them. Simply talking to someone is a good way to stay awake.
What Is Drowsy Driving?
Drowsy driving is driving any vehicle without enough sleep. Sleep is a basic human need that if not met can be dangerous.
Drowsy driving is when someone is at risk for falling asleep behind the wheel or not being alert enough to make decisions while driving.
It is similar to drunk driving. Like alcohol or drugs, lack of sleep impairs driving skills such as hand-eye coordination, reaction time, vision, awareness of surroundings, decision-making, judgement, and inhibition.
Driving without enough rest is dangerous, if you feel that you are no longer able to drive the best thing you could do is stop driving and get some rest. Below is a list of warning signs that you or someone you are driving with may be drowsy.
Signs That You Are Too Tired To Drive
According to the United States Centers For Disease Control and Prevention there are some warning signs that indicate that you are probably too tired to drive. If you experience any of these warning signs it is time to try one of the tips above.
1. Missing exits or traffic signs: If you can’t remember the last few traffic signs or you are missing exits it may be due to drowsy driving.
2. Frequent yawning or blinking: Yawning and/or frequent blinking is an indicator of drowsiness.
3. Difficulty holding head upright: If you find that your head is more and more difficult to hold upright you are too tired to drive a vehicle.
4. Drifting: A strong indicator that you are drowsy is if you find yourself drifting in and out of your driving lane. This is dangerous and can cause an accident. If you are drifting it is time to pull over and sleep.
5. Wandering Thoughts: If you find your thoughts are starting to wander and not making sense you might be too drowsy.
6. Feeling Restless and Irritable: Restlessness and irritability increases the more tired you get.
When Do Most Drowsy Driving Accidents Occur?
Most drowsy driving accidents occur between midnight and 6 am. This is when the body’s need for sleep is the greatest. This is why it is recommended to avoid driving any vehicle between midnight and 6 am.
Who Is Most Likely To Drive Drowsy?
The most likely drowsy driver is a male that is alone. Any driver that is alone is at a higher risk for drowsy driving because no one is with them to notice warning signs. Most accidents tend to be a single vehicle running off the road and hitting an object. Below are a few more demographics of those that are most likely to drive drowsy. Source: National Sleep Foundation
-Adults between 18-29 years of age are most likely to drive while drowsy.
-Men are more likely than women to drive while drowsy (56% to 45%).
-Adults with children are more likely to drive drowsy.
-Shift workers are more likely to drive to and from work drowsy than those who work during the day.
Who Is Most At Risk For Drowsy Driving?
There are some specific at risk groups which include shift workers, commercial truck drivers, people with sleep disorders, and people traveling for business. These are some more people that are at risk:
1. Anyone that is sleep deprived or overly tired.
2. Anyone that is driving long distances without proper breaks/rest stops.
3. Driving between midnight and 6 am.
4. Working more than 60 hours per week and driving a lot.
5. Drinking alcohol.
6. Taking medications such as cold medications or antidepressants.
7. Traveling across many time zones.
Drowsy Driving Laws
There are no federal driving laws regarding drowsy driving. A few states in the United States have taken action and created laws for drowsy driving offenses. Here are some examples of how two states have incorporated drowsy driving into their driving offenses. Source: National Conference of State Legislatures
The state of Arkansas classifies fatigued driving as an offense under negligent homicide and is considered a class A misdemeanor. If the driver involved is a fatal accident has not slept in 24 hours or is in the state of sleep after being without sleep for 24 hours he/she may be charged with breaking the law.
A driver that has been without sleep for 24 hours can considered driving recklessly and is in the same classification as an intoxicated driver.
There are several states that have tried to introduce bills related to drowsy driving that have failed to become law. Some of those states include Tennessee, New York, Main, and Massachusetts.
Drowsy Driving Vs. Drunk Driving
Are they the same? Yes, they are for the most part the same. Lack of sleep and alcohol consumption both slow reaction times, impact your ability to process information, and impair your memory.
All three of these impairments is going to lead to a heightened risk of crashing or causing an accident. Source: The Sleep Wellness Institute
Going without sleep for 17 hours is equal to driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. After 25 hours of no sleep it goes up to driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.10%. In all states this would be considered legally drunk. Unfortunately, there is no way to test for drowsy driving as there is a breathalyzer test for drunk driving.
If you are feeling drowsy while driving you need to do what is right and not drive. Do the same as you would if you drank too much alcohol, stay away from a vehicle for your own sake and for the sake of everyone else that shares the roads with you.
What Has The Trucking Industry Done To Minimize Drowsy Driving?
The federal government has enacted the hours of service rules and regulations which monitors how much a commercial vehicle driver is resting and driving. To learn more about the hours of service laws for commercial driver you should read this.